Friday, October 1, 2010

NY Times: Where Manual Labor Is the Price of Academic Excellence

This from today's NY Times:

For parents at Miraloma Elementary School in San Francisco, the quest for academic achievement means getting their hands dirty.

On a cold, foggy Wednesday morning recently, seven parents huddled around an outdoor table scrubbing stalks of organic celery for snack time. They had just finished cleaning and portioning a mound of Gala apples. Inside, three vacuum cleaners stood sentry in the hallway, at the ready for parents to tidy classroom carpets.

“You need to pick up where the state falls off,” said Rossana Rossetto, the mother of a first grader.

Welcome to the New Math of education: chores equal scores.

Read the full story

24 comments:

  1. "Most parental involvement entailed learning..."

    This came as a surprise to me. Parents are involved in teaching? Not sure I'm comfortable with that. Also, six parents in one K class seems like a lot. What are they doing? I apologize if these questions sound naive, but I have not toured any schools yet so have not witnessed a K class in action.

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  2. I have to say that I felt kind of sad reading this article. This amount of parental involvement is what it takes to have a great public school? I know that public school is free, but if you consider the price of all that time it makes the equation quite different.

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  3. Miraloma rocks!
    We are currently in 1st grade and I had never seen 6 parents in the classroom, volunteering at one time, except for field trips. It will one or two max. The parents help the teacher or tutor kids one-on-one. It's quite wonderful and frankly I wish I could be more involved than my full-time job allows me.

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  4. Yes, that's how much parental involvement it takes to have a great public school. Or a great private school. Or a great homeschool.

    And budgets have nothing to do with it. Even if a school has all the money in the world and can afford an army of janitors, cooks and the universe's best teachers, kids ONLY do well will ALL of the adults in the childrens' lives are fully engaged in their learning process, every day, in school and out. Kids need our time more than they need our money. Yes, it's great that Miraloma raises money, but the really awesome thing about Miraloma and other good schools (ours is Sunnyside) is how on top of it all the adults are - we are all, as a community, helping to raise each other's kids. Not just paying for extra stuff, but hanging out in the lunchroom, going on field trips, organizing playdates.

    Being well-funded is not the only key to producing well -educated kids. Community is that key. Lots of research supports this. I've not seen Waiting for Superman, but I'm so sick of hearing about how we need to change this or change that or get this new curriculum or that amount of money or whatever. What kids need is us.

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  5. Yes, well, if kids need "us" so badly, why doesn't our culture make it possible to take time off while a kid is little without severe consequences for our earning potential? Why have work hours gotten so long, and wages so low? Why have so many jobs moved out of the city that commuting takes up huge amounts of working people's days?

    Sorry, but I am sick of the guilt trip from stay-at-home parents. My kid may need my time, but he also needs the middle-class bare minimum my salary buys him: a roof over his head, food on the table, health insurance, and so on, which means I have precious little time to play janitor or gardener at his school. I'm very grateful to the stay-at-home parents who invest in the schools without judging me, and I'm happy to write a check when I can and attend school events. But this substitute of private parental energy and money for real, societal support for the schools pisses me off.

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  6. 7:23, I think I love you.

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  7. If this is the amount of parental support necessary, then clearly we need to advocate for better family leave policies, more sustainable work/life balances, and for more generous TANF benefits so that families in need of government assistance can spend time in their children's classrooms, too.

    Budgets have a lot to do with it. Miraloma is hugely funded through QEIA. Someone is paying for those vacuum cleaners, extra snacks and teacher's aide.

    Shame on the New York Times for failing to mention the demographic shift and increased funding that undoubtedly enabled Miraloma's rising test scores.

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  8. 2010 CST Results for Miraloma show that one quarter of students in the 2nd grade are below proficient in reading and math. So, it is not a great public school for everyone.

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  9. I think you may see more parents helping at public schools today because a lot of us have lost our jobs or have lost some of our work. It's been a rough few years here, and many people I know who've lost work are throwing themselves into their kids' schools. I too wish society would support families to take time more off, but I'd just add it's not only the preaching stay-at-home Moms doing work at schools these days. At my kids' school, there are a lot of under employed Dads helping out too.

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  10. If this is the amount of parental support necessary, then clearly there is a problem with money and resources in public schools. I know that's a given, but why are we talking about letting parents have more time off? Public schools are supposed to be free and public and run on their own, without the need for a gazillion parent volunteers helping the teachers. I'm not saying that isn't nice to have -- I'm saying it shouldn't be necessary for a school to run well.

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  11. As a parent I expect to supervise homework, monitor academic progress, buy school supplies, attend parent-teacher conferences, look for an art supply store that's open late when my kid forgets to tell me about a gigantic project until the night before the due date, read with my kids, and generally support my kids' teachers in their efforts to educate my children. I signed on for that having kids. I don't even mind helping out at occasional events like carnivals, performances and field trips where extra hands are needed. But if I'm paying for school, whether a public school with my tax dollars or a private school with my tuition dollars, I think an ordinary school day should be able to function smoothly without having to count on unpaid (and usually untrained) labor from parents. I don't remember EVER seeing a parent volunteer in the classroom from grades K-12 when I was growing up. The only time I saw parents at school was when the moms chaperoned field trips or dropped off cupcakes for their kid's birthday, or the dads came to talk about their jobs on Career Day. I know that's not the reality today, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

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  12. The only reason Miraloma's scores have improved is that more well-to-do kids attend the school.

    The school itself is no better and no worse.

    The teaching staff is the SAME as it was when the scores were abysmal.

    The school has not improved. Its population has been gentrified, that's all.

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  13. 2:13, the fact that the similar schools index for Miraloma is only 3 would seem to support your thesis.

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  14. 2:13

    The only reason well-to-do kids attended the school was the scores have improved.

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  15. as a full time working parent of a Miraloma 1st grader...

    I volunteer for 30 min a week. There is never more than one parent in the room at a time. There was a three session parent orrientation.

    The snack program talked about in the article is new this year and does take lots of parent work. It is done in the garden, not a classroom.

    I have found the families at Miraloma to be very diverse in composition and wealth. I don't think anyone feels forced to volunteer or donate money, though the big fundraising items haven't happened yet this year. This is our community. Any time, effort or money will help my child and his classmates.

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  16. 9:03, of course. And it's not like private schools don't take their pint of blood! The difference, though, is that at the private schools parent volunteering is extra, icing on the cake and not the bread on the platter. We've seen a massive shift of what used to be the government's and employers' duties onto the backs of private families, or the failure of government and employers to take these burdens up in the first place: retirement funds have been slashed, childcare options for working women aren't much better than they were in the 1970s, there is no universal health care plan, services for the mentally ill have been cut to the bone, on and on and on. And it's women, plus a few under/unemployed dads, who take care of the kids and the old people and the sick, and now we're supposed to hold up the schools?! I admire people who do it, but I think the fact that it HAS to be done shows deep moral failure on the part of our society.

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  17. Maybe no one is being "forced" to volunteer, but I think they do feel compelled out of fear that the schools would fall apart otherwise.

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  18. And some people find meaning and purpose in volunteering -- that is, yes, it benefits those volunteers' kids (and other kids too,) but it also makes the volunteers feel good. It's not all that unusual that people would volunteer in the communities in which they're most immersed.

    For some people, volunteering in the schools can be a way to find a community/adult friends/connections that can sometimes be hard to develop elsewhere. It can provide a bounty.

    And for women who were raised to "work" and who now are not (whether stay-at-home or unemployed), it provides meaning. Women didn't volunteer at schools as much as they do now in the 70s not simply because the needs weren't as great but because volunteering in schools wasn't anywhere near as socially promoted as it is now.

    And maybe that volunteering was always happening in private. I have kids in public and private, and both are filled with (mostly women) volunteering all the time. I don't think it's all about the school's need or necessarily a reflection of the moral failings of larger society.

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  19. I am not faulting women who volunteer, at all, nor am I suggesting that volunteering doesn't feel good or isn't productive for people who do it. I am faulting a country that relies on (mostly) women's *unpaid labor* rather than using its vast resources to ensure a well-educated, healthy citizenry. When the halls of your child's school would be filled with garbage, or your elderly parent would be out on the street, or you have to quit work because staying home is less expensive than childcare, you are not making a "choice" to volunteer. You are being coerced into doing unpaid labor by a government that doesn't give a damn.

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  20. 7:11
    Thanks for saying what I was thinking. We are letting the government off the hook. But if I don't volunteer for the projects I do at my kids school, they won't happen, or someone else will and I will just be taking advantage of another sucker. So I will play the sucker for now.

    I am all for an engaged school community and parent involvement. But I should be supporting my child at home and the school should be teaching and supporting her at school. Instead, I spend evenings doing PTA stuff, rather than helping her.

    I went to a public school in a low income neighborhood. My parents showed up for assemblies, parent conferences, and made sure we were reading, doing homework and learning at home. They did not spend the weekend helping to clean the yard at our school, or photocopying flyers at 8 am. They sent 4 kids to Ivy league colleges.

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  21. Beware of the volunteer trap. Volunteers should not be doing what a professional should be doing. This is how George Bush the first and his "thousand points of light" convinced the country to defund public assistance programs,

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  22. But honestly, what else can we do if we have kids in school right now other than volunteer? Yes, it would be lovely if the US used its vast resources to better schools and healthcare and public resources instead of spending so much money on fighting wars. But in the short term, it seems highly unlikely that the US will start thinking of these equations more like Europe does, just as it seems highly unlikely that military spending is even going to be counted the same columns/budgets as spending on schools, healthcare, etc. In a time of budget cuts, any switch to the kind of budget allocating you're talking about seems like a pipe dream.

    So for now, while my kid is still in elementary school, I'll stick to volunteering, even if it devalues me and my time. Because, honestly, what else -- in the short term -- are the options?

    ps - I went to public elementary school in the 70s. Class make up was 2/3 AA, little less than 1/3 white, smattering of Latinos. Mixed to low income. My parents volunteered some, but nothing like parents do today, because we had all sorts of resources at my public school that are no longer options today. There just weren't the same kinds of gaps, even in the 70s, which wasn't exactly the best time for the economy. We had art class, gym class, music class with dedicated full-time teachers for each. We even had a nurse and a guidance teacher!

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  23. Because of Miraloma's relatively good after school childcare options, the majority of parents at Miraloma work full-time. Many of these parents still volunteer, if not in the classroom, at community events, doing the newsletter, etc.

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  24. How hard is it to get in to the afterschool programs at Miraloma?

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